Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Laura Benitez And The Heartache: “Heartless Woman” (2014) CD Review

Heartless Woman, the debut full-length CD from Laura Benitez And The Heartache, is an album of seriously good country music, with a vibe like that of a bar band led by a strong female presence. The songs are a mix of classic sounds with timeless concerns. And something in the sound of vocals gives the impression of being live, and in a larger space. And when she sings of woes and troubles, the resulting songs will make you feel better about your own personal troubles. Perhaps that’s in part because there is no agony or despair in her voice – it’s a lively voice, and a lively overall sound, of someone with hope and energy. Like in the rockin’ little number, “Take Me Off The Shelf.” There is also a humor to much of this material, like in “Imitation Of You,” in which she sings, “If I drink myself dumb, but say I don’t have a problem/I’m doing my imitation of you” and “If you like what you see me do/It’s ‘cause I’m acting just like you.” This album also features lots of great work by Ian Taylor Sutton on pedal steel guitar. These tracks are mostly original material, with just one exception, a Gillian Welch song.

“Good Love”

Heartless Woman opens with “Good Love,” a nice, upbeat tune about coming to terms with the bad state of a relationship. Country music is so good at tackling that subject and making it all right. And doing it with a bit of humor thrown in, as Laura Benitez does with lines like “I told myself when you came home, I’d welcome you with open arms/But you’ve been gone for quite a while/And my arms are getting tired.” And I really like these lines: “It’s been hard giving up on you/After all that we’ve been through/But I guess good love ain’t good enough.” Plus, this track features a really nice lead guitar section.

“Worst Vacation”

I love the guitar opening to “Worst Vacation,” giving this song a classic feel. It’s another excellent country song of heartache, with lyrics like “You broke my heart, you told me lies, but the punishment is mine/A vacation from the life we knew that will last for all time/This is the worst vacation I’ve ever been on/The trip that I’ve taken ever since we’ve been done/Thinking of the way things used to be makes my heart yearn/But it’s a trip back from which I never will return.” Wonderful, right? And I really like these lines: “I made this trip by choice/But it still comes as a surprise.” It’s something we can all relate to, and I appreciate the humor with which Laura Benetiz approaches the material.

“I Know You’re Bad”

“I Know You’re Bad” has a nice, slower rhythm, and again, opens with some wonderful work on guitar. I really love her vocal performance on this track in particular. “She thinks you love her, put no one above her/She thinks you’re good/But I know you’re bad.” The song’s perspective is that of a woman who knows more about another woman’s man. And you begin to wonder if she’ll tell the other woman. She seems conflicted on that, and the song itself seems a bit like a confession, like a way of telling this woman without telling her directly. Instead, the song is directed at the man. “You are bad, she don’t see/’Cause she don’t know about me.”

“Heartless Woman”

“Heartless Woman,” the album’s title track, finds the singer wishing she were less emotional. She wants to leave a relationship, and finds fault with her own emotions for making that decision difficult. Her husband has a problem with alcohol. But she also admits a weakness of her own, in the line “It wouldn’t bother me to be alone” in the chorus, “Wish I was a heartless woman/I wish I had a heart of stone/Then I wouldn’t miss you, darling/It wouldn’t bother me to be alone.”  So it’s not really entirely about her feelings for him, but also about her own vulnerability, her own worries, her own needs and fears. “You’re funny and you’re handsome/But we just go round and round/You wouldn’t dream of changing/All you’re gonna do is let me down.”

Interestingly, “This Empty Bottle” is also about being with a guy who has trouble with alcohol. This song features excellent use of harmony vocals, and is one of the album’s strongest tracks.

“Sweet Green Eyes” is a pretty, slow waltz with a nice instrumental section. This is actually one of my favorite tracks. Laura’s voice has a sweet quality to it that is totally endearing.

“Taking What’s Mine”

“Taking What’s Mine” is another tune about the end of a relationship. It’s a song of strength, not despair, a song of someone who is taking stock, and realizing she has a lot to claim as her own, not just the physical objects she’s packing up to move on. “I never wanted anything but love/But you, my dear, gave me anything but/You can take your money, and shove it where the sun don’t shine/Because I’m taking what’s mine.” She takes what would perhaps normally be a depressing activity, and turns it into a positive, self-affirming song.

Gillian Welch

Heartless Woman concludes with its sole cover, a rendition of Gillian Welch’s “Tear My Stillhouse Down.” This song was included on Gillian Welch’s debut CD, Revival. Laura's rendition doesn't have the bluesy edge of the Welch original. It has a happier feel, almost a defiantly positive vibe.

CD Track List

  1. Good Love
  2. Worst Vacation
  3. Take Me Off The Shelf
  4. I Know You’re Bad
  5. Imitation Of You
  6. Heartless Woman
  7. Sweet Green Eyes
  8. This Empty Bottle
  9. Where You Gonna Be Tonight
  10. Taking What’s Mine
  11. Tear My Stillhouse Down 


Laura Benitez And The Heartache are Laura Benitez on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and cowbell; Bob Spector on electric guitar, baritone guitar and 12-string guitar; Ted O’Connell on electric bass; Ian Taylor Sutton on pedal steel guitar; Michele Kappel-Stone on drums, harmony vocals and tambourine; and Andrea Delarosa on harmony vocals. This band is based in Berkeley, California.

Heartless Woman is scheduled to be released on November 4, 2014 on Copperhead Records.

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